Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mid -Twentieth Century Woman

As I was born in the early 1950's, I can describe myself as a mid-twentieth century woman. Those of us born in the 1950's have experienced a great deal of societal change during our lives. In 1952, when I was born, the average woman married at the age of 20 and conceived the first of her 3.77 children within 7 months of marriage. She had no plans to work outside of the home and the idea of divorce was unthinkable.

In the elementary school yard in Canada, during the 1950's, boys and girls did not play together since boys played rougher games than girls. Physical Education classes were also segregated according to gender and there were few organized sports teams for girls. It was not regarded as "feminine" for a girl to be "competitive".
Look how many of us were in the class!

In high school, all girls were required to study Home Economics for at least one year and then encouraged to consider a Clerical or Home Economics programme in addition to the Academic programme. In my life, this is when I started to balk because I wanted to study two foreign languages rather than Childcare or Bookkeeping. Against the advice of the school counsellor, I took my chances and followed a "Double Academic " programme with "nothing to fall back on."
You can tell that Mademoiselle L was a dreamy girl. 

There were still few career options afforded to young women: teaching, nursing or social work.
None of these appealed to me in the least! I dreamt of becoming an interpreter for the United Nations or  a foreign correspondent. Not knowing where to begin with this, I did what many other mid-century women did: got married and conceived a child within 3 months just like my mother and grandmother. But the times, they were a-changing. I worked part-time is a small public library and found myself discontent with domestic life. Many of my friends who married in the early seventies are now divorced; some remarried like me, others single by circumstances or by choice.

Most of my friends have supported themselves and their children at some time. Some have been the principal bread-winner in a marriage due to illness or job loss. I lived in nonprofit housing with my daughter while I completed post-baccalaureate education and began my teaching career. In all of my adult life, I have only lived in a detached home for three years. Since my daughter has been an adult for almost 20 years, much of my personal income has been spent on travel, theatre and opera. My friends are much less likely to spend an entire day doing housework than their mothers did. Technology has freed us from many tasks although I enjoy cleaning and rearranging our apartment.
Mum and Dad at my retirement.

As we age, the women of my generation are likely to have more interests and more independence than any group of women before them. As roles in domestic relationships have changed over the years, it may be the husband who enjoys cooking and the wife who undertakes do-it-yourself projects. Financially, women today are more likely than their predecessors to have their own pensions and savings.

The women of my age have lived through a period of transition like no other. Today, women generally marry at a later age or perhaps not at all. They can raise children in a relationship, on their own or not at all. Women make up more than 50% of post-secondary students and are working in the trades as well.

As we approach the Third Age, mid-twentieth century women are poised to be the most influential and most  resilient group of women in history.



1 comment:

  1. Many parallels here with my experience of the 50s and 60s, but there are also some interesting differences that I'll have to think more about. I begin to appreciate even more those three years at a very small Catholic high school, for girls only, that I attend from Grades 8 to 10. We were encouraged to be academic there, even intellectual on occasion. As well, I realize that for all the problems Catholicism imposed, the large Catholic family as I experienced it meant a chance to mix it up with the boys. Thanks to my parents' wisdom (again, which I am appreciating anew), we girls and boys played the same backyard and back alley games after dinner, and we both washed dishes and folded laundry and helped with yardwork. I think in many ways that set the bar very high for my expectations of marriage and I was very lucky to marry a guy who was up for the challenge, probably rare enough at that date. Very much looking forward to more of your reminiscence and analysis

    ReplyDelete